It’s common to get constructive feedback on becoming better communicator. Complaints about internal communication crop like weeds in a garden. Wouldn’t every day feel like a Friday if you knew how to help someone communicate more effectively without anyone getting defensive about it?
Plenty of smart, high-potential employees are skilled in the work they do but don’t always know how to improve their communication abilities. Those days are over. There’s a new tool in town.
After coaching hundreds of incredibly intelligent data analysts, marketing mavens, HR generalists and specialists, managing directors of learning, CFOs, technology directors and more, I devised a simple way to talk about communication skills in a way non-communication experts can understand.
This new communication improvement path does not involve acronyms, steps, roadmaps, or checklists.
It does include three hats: PR agent, communication coach and event planner.
These hats represent communication roles that a leader wears occasionally, in addition to everything else they do. They are intended to help one understand how to channel that invisible effort productively.
Good communication in all directions paves the way to employee engagement and a healthy culture. Engagement can flourish if employees are aligned with the company vision and feel informed and heard.
To achieve better alignment between you, your team and your boss, and current priorities, take a look at how the three communication hats can serve you.
Top-Down: Your PR Agent Hat
Consider PR roles as the path to obtain two outcomes:
- Transferring key information and talking points to targeted audiences
- Building key relationships
When it comes to spreading the word about the tremendous (but maybe not so obvious) value your team adds to the organization, your target audiences include the people who work directly on your team, your boss, your team’s plethora of internal clients and executive leadership.
Before you start evangelizing, jot down some of your points of view (aka “talking points”). These are informed and relevant opinions that answer questions such as:
- Which initiatives do you want your people thinking about this week?
- Which two or three potential threats are keeping you up at night?
- What are the wins from this week?
- What is the single most important thing you are working on right now?
- What kind of resource do you most need to get the job done faster or better?
These answers are the talking points you will want to ripple out on a consistent basis. Take time to craft them.
To get the word out, wear your PR agent hat to all meetings and networking events, whether internal or external. You may want to add an informal, internal newsletter to your arsenal of messaging channels. This could even be a regular video message that goes out by email.
Consider your internal audience to be a litmus test for your messaging, as well. Is it well received and understood? If not, what can be improved? This will help you get a better sense for how the messaging may be received by customers, clients or other stakeholders.
As far as building key relationships, that’s a project unto itself. It’s also one that is easily and often swept under the rug. To keep it top of mind, schedule at least one hour a week to create opportunities to meet with interesting people in your tribe. One client, a creative at a national U.S. beauty products brand, holds weekly 20-minute personal check-ins with select peers, to keep those relationships strong and flexible. She says that since she started these check-ins, she has seen reduced friction among colleagues and smoother collaboration.
Bottom-Up: Your Event Planner Hat
Communication professionals are well-versed in how tricky upward communication is. However, failure to flag issues not only fuels the rumor mill; problems escalate and become even more expensive to resolve. I like to think of this role being represented by a hard hat.
The idea behind the event planner hard hat is the job of building structures to facilitate upward communication. For employees to speak their minds, they need a psychological safe space and believe that their messages are being heard and heeded.
Keeping that leadership ear on the ground can happen through monthly lunches, weekly coffee chats, skip level meetings or open house events. All of these can be adapted to social distancing and working from home.
Another type of event that improves communication is having a webinar on that topic. Having explicit conversations about communicate styles makes it easier for employees to express frustration with ineffective practices — for example, a redundant weekly meeting — and solve them.
A tech company with offices across the country developed a variation of the town hall meeting. It’s a themed open-house meeting and executives can tune in to serious issues on the ground, regardless of where the employee is based. The format is framed by a topic selected by employees and anyone interested can attend, ask questions and are assured of getting answers from senior leadership.
Especially when new to a role, the practice of being available for university-style office hours — where anyone can come in and chat — is another great way to build relationships and communication channels.
Make it a priority to create spaces or structures where employees feel safe asking questions and flagging issues, so you can continue to communicate upward.
Better Team Collaboration: Your Communication Coach Hat
Who is in a better position to know which specific communication skills need polishing among your team members? The answer is you. Make it official by donning your communication coach hat.
As the leader, you are precisely the person who knows which employees need help with micro communication skills, including body language, getting to the point, listening, emotional intelligence, feedback, speaking up at meetings, presentations and emails.
One client, a technology senior manager based in Mexico working for a global beverage brand, embraced his communication coach hat and was quickly rewarded for his efforts. This young man, a self-described “data geek,” set up a series of short online trainings for everyone on his remote team. They not only shared the experience of learning the ins on outs of great communication skills, but enjoyed productive conversations after each one.
The easiest way to get started as a communication coach is to ask each person, “How can I better communicate with you?”
You most likely won’t get a helpful answer the first time you ask, but keep asking. This question not only delivers useful insight, but you plant the seed that communication is better and that improving this skill is a priority.
A variation of that question is to ignite a conversation as a team around: “How can we communicate better with each other?”
Hold on to Your Hats
Wearing these hats may sound like extra work — and indeed, it is. But the extra effort early on pays off in performance, engagement and satisfaction. Plus you’re forming habits that help you advance professionally.
Who knows, you may find these new communication hats look so good on you that you forget to take them off.
At the 2020 Virtual World Conference, Laura presented “Three High-Level Communication Hats Leaders Must Wear for Effective Internal Communication.” Review this session and others by gaining access to one or more of the conference recording packages. View all available recording packages here.
Laura Mixon Camacho, Ph.D.
Laura Mixon Camacho, Ph.D., founded Mixonian Institute in 2009 to rid the business world of boring, redundant and self-defeating communication (she has a lot of work to do!). Mixonian Institute training programs are for leaders who want more impact and influence in order to improve outcomes for our companies and communities. Through her expertise, creative research and sense of humor, Laura is disrupting the traditional approach to teaching communication skills using creativity, curiosity and confidence. Her articles are regularly published by several business publications, including Forbes.com, The Southern C, Lionesses of Africa and now Training Industry. A member of the Forbes Council of Coaches, Camacho was also named by The Moultrie News as a “Leading Woman in Business,” and has been praised for “doing an amazing job of connecting ‘soft skills’ involving the head, the heart, with the nitty gritty technical, logical, analytical workplace we work in.”